This appeared first on this website and subsequently was published in Proletarian Revolution No. 77 (Spring 2006).
The twelve cartoons printed by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, and later reprinted by other papers across Europe, depicted the Muslim prophet Mohammed as a bomb-carrier and supporter of terrorists. The publication of these pictures was not an exercise in “free speech” any more than a Nazi or a Klan rally would be – it was another attack in a campaign designed to further whip up racist and religious antagonism against Middle Eastern immigrants in Western Europe, as well as to try to bolster faltering public support in the West for the imperialist wars against Iraq and Afghanistan.
By painting Mohammed as a terrorist, the cartoonists and the bourgeois reactionaries behind them labeled all his followers as killers. By insulting the prime symbol of Islam, the cartoons created a racist and chauvinist attack – that is, an attack on a whole people. Especially people of color around the world recognize that the cartoons were a sneering imperialist insult to all oppressed people. Such caricatures have always been a stock-in-trade for racist demagogues.
The wider context behind the cartoons is the U.S. and its allies’ brutal imperialist wars against Afghanistan and Iraq, Israel’s expanding outrages against the Palestinians, also backed by the U.S., and the mounting threats against Iran. Washington took the thoroughly hypocritical stance of criticizing the cartoons as offensive to Muslims – this from the ruling class that has perpetrated the wholesale slaughter and slander of Muslim people.
The Communist Organization for the Fourth International condemns these cartoons and calls for protests against them by working-class organizations across the world. We condemn the shameful silence – or worse – of the leaders of mass working-class organizations in Europe and the U.S. Their failure to show solidarity with their fellow Muslim workers and oppressed people aids the reactionary leaders in the Islamic world in their manipulation of the angry masses for their own rotten ends.
Mass protests have indeed erupted across the Middle East and in other Muslim countries. We identify with the movement of the oppressed toilers because of its implicit anti-imperialist content. We do so despite the fact that many of the actions have been organized or hijacked by reactionary rulers or clerics and used to settle political, ethnic and religious scores, or to induce Western governments to ban “blasphemy” against Islam. Our attitude toward any specific protest depends on concrete circumstances.
Over a hundred people have been killed in Nigeria, with dozens more in Pakistan, Libya and elsewhere. We condemn the regimes of Pakistan, Libya and others that used bloody force against anti-imperialist demonstrators, as well as reactionary leaders responsible for bloodshed against workers and oppressed people of rival religions and ethnicities in Nigeria.
As revolutionary communists, we oppose any effort by the bourgeois state to ban writings or drawings. We know that if the state wins the power to ban such material it will be used chiefly against the rights of the working class and oppressed peoples. In Western Europe, such power would inevitably target Middle Eastern people there.
Most of the international far left, with a few exceptions, has taken the position of denouncing the cartoons as a racist and chauvinist attack on Muslims, while opposing legal bans. This is a correct appraisal. But the left generally dodges the point that the mass of Muslim protestors also object to the cartoons on religious grounds.
For many Muslims, any depiction of Mohammed is blasphemous. As followers of Karl Marx we do not wish to insult the millions of people who consider Islam their only hope. It is especially horrendous to do so in a world where Western Christianity has come to symbolize imperialist domination and persecution.
We do not wish to be soft on Islam or any religion: we oppose any belief in the supernatural as a brake on working-class consciousness as to how the material and political world operates. The communist method is to state firmly what we believe and to work over time to undermine the ideological power of religions and the hierarchies that mislead the masses.
What is necessary is mass action by working-class organizations to denounce and even shut down the racist publications, and thereby show the power of the working class to champion the interests of the oppressed. Unity of the working class and the oppressed is the way to fight the imperialist attacks and prove the need for working-class leadership. The Communist Organization for the Fourth International is dedicated to the re-creation of the Fourth International, the world party of socialist revolution. International proletarian revolution is the only answer to the horrors perpetrated by capitalism and imperialism.